DAVID MAYFIELD – STRANGERS

David-Mayfield--Strangers-album-cover_large

David Mayfields previous album Good Man Down hit me like a cannonball in the guts. Being one of last years top 5 albums in my book, I played it numerous times the year it came out, and it’s still on heavy rotation.

So how do you follow one of the best albums ever released? David Mayfield “simply” makes an even better album.

I can hear you mumbling “How is that possible?”. In Mayfields case it’s quite easy. He just wrote a bunch of even better lyrics, updated his soundscape some and topped it off with not one, not two but three songs that will be challengers for the title “Song of The Year”.

And off course the most important ingredient for making beyond outstanding music: He writes about a recent breakup.

The twist though, is that he doesn’t seem to hate the other party of the breakup. The songs are heavy with self loathing and self hate, but done in a way that still shows light at the end of the tunnel. This is a realisation of disappointment in himself, but there are still gems which flicker lividly of hope and happieness.

I mentioned the soundscape. Because that’s what it really is. A landscape of sound, quite unique and at times slightly challenging. But it’s all so masterfully done, and it sounds just so right for these songs. He’s mixed rock, country, bluegrass with avantgarde and a touch of electronica – and ends up with just the right shade he envisioned.

He’s done some changes to the band, seemingly a bit saddend by the fact that he’s lost musicians to better paying gigs over the years – The David Mayfield Parade is now just David Mayfield – and they’re down to a trio of multi instrumentalists. On the album Mayfield himself plays a heap of instruments, and as Compass Records signed him after Good Man Down – he didn’t have to Kickstart this one – and could focus on the album itself.

Strangers opens with a caution. Through the song “Caution” we get a warning that we’re gonna get a ride we hadn’t quite anticipated. And with Jenny Starsnics haunting fiddle, there’s a really obvious new tone to his music.

On “Ohio” Mayfield moves the song from a dreamingly acoustic place, suddenly into a discobeat. An accident from the studio that sounded so cool he had to make it work on the album.

I mentioned “Song of The Year”. The first one to go for the title is “The Man I’m Trying To Be”.

The line  “Another disappointment to the man I’m trying to be” is as brilliant as it is haunting, as he sings this song to himself, and says:

He sees me use and abuse the ones I love.
He knows when I can, and I don’t give enough.
If I were him, by now I would be ashamed of me.
Another disappointment to the man I’m trying to be.

It’s heartbreaking, it’s Mayfield turning himself inside out and letting us see what’s troubling him.

“Show” combines Starsnics fiddle with Mayfields vision, where worl music and something that could have worked as a drumsound in the late 80’s fusions into a veritable fireworks of a song. And his voice… damn. You can FEEL it shattering your bones.

In “The One I Hate” is another contender for “Song of The Years”. He opens up yet again, and let’s us into his head…

 

You are pretty and witty
wild but graceful.
I’m wasteful,
and hard on the eyes.

 

And then he follows that with :

 

I can’t even pull off this
simple seduction.
I’m a one man production,
of Lord of the Flies.

 

Mayfield then gives us four of the best lines ever up in a song. He is a master at describing emotions through song, and it’s nothing short of beautiful.

 

Don’t tell me you love me.
I warn you; you’ll seal our fate.
How could I love the one
who loves the one I hate.

 

He tears his heart open, and what shows are these final lines…

 

You’ve never been in my mind
It’s a sad, shallow place
where dreams go to die.

 

How do you follow a song like that?
You channel your inner Elvis, and mixes a thunder of percussions and drums with a wild gypsyfiddle – and send us “Rain On My Parade”. Easy.

And then… the next of the three contenders. Separate they’re in the running for “Song of The Year”. Together they are the pivotal basis for this album, the foundation that lifts this to lengendary status and beyond.

“My First Big Lie And How I Got Out Of It”. I know! You love it even before you’ve heard it. The title is nothing short of brilliant. And the song? Oh man… I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love this…

Mayfield and his acoustic guitar tells us a one-sided lovestory. Not that it’s told from one side only, no – one one of the two involved were in love.

This is a final resolution to his own bad conscience, for saying “I love you” without it having any basis in real feelings, of infidelity, dishonesty and lack of care. And his voice… it’s an instrument of it’s own. So full of emotion there is no doubt he’s lived what he sings.

 

I could have been faithful if I tried
but I strayed away every time.
Many the strangers I’ve held through the night
I could have been faithful if I tried.

If you had been clever, you would have known
That love won’t return from a heart made of stone
You could have left here and left me alone
If you had been clever, then you might have known

 

“In Your Eyes” combines Appalcihan mountainmusic with a touch of rockabilly, and through a wild run on the fiddle he interprets the old saying “The eyes are the mirror of the soul”.

There’s more traditional music in “Ring Out The Old”, a soung about clearing out and starting over.

And in “Hangman” we hear parts of what made the last album special, the band is playful and improvise more than on the other songs – while still being under direction of Mayfields master plan.

 

Ain’t no hangman,
gonna get no rope around me

 

On “Face The Storm” he has captured the intensity and rythm from a major storm, and mixes it up with electronic elements and haunting guitar. David Mayfield meets past AND present face on.

The beautiful “Lazy Love” ends this album, a nostalgic look at love and a relationship that might or might not, work.

Essential Listening? You bet!

This is the best album I’ve heard so far this year. Get it at David Mayfields website  or over at Compass Records. (I would personally recommend the “Don’t let a woman make a David Mayfield out of you” poster bundle, that poster is awsome)

 

Ohio (It’s Fake)

The Man I’m Trying To Be

 

ISRAEL NASH – RAIN PLANS

Israel-Nash-Gripka-Rain-Plains

I take full responsibility for not bringing Israel Nash to your attention before this moment in time. For that I am truly sorry. I plan to rectify this through this post.
We Scandinavians have been lucky enough to enjoy his music over the last few years, as he early got a strong foothold in Sweden, and subsequently got introduced to Norway.

The first time I saw Israel Nash live, he played for 6 people in a local bar. And it was absolutely fantastic. He’s slowly built himself an audience in Norway, and when he played here last on his European relasetour for Rain Plans, he filled the place.

Rain Plans is his third album, and I do strongly recommend checking out his previous releases New York Town and Barn Doors & Concrete Floors, which are both magnificent, filled with strong lyrics and Israels hauntingly strong voice.

I’ve described his new album Rain Plans as Neil Youngs Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’s secret half brother, and the cousin of Neil’s Harvest.

The Neil Young vibe is strong, and his band sounds like a hungry Crazy Horse. But Israel uses the sound and makes it his own, putting enough of himself into the mix to stand out.

He is a real storyteller, paiting his landscapes and his characters in bright, wide strokes. It’s obvious he’s lived these stories, and know how to convert the feelings into words we can understand and relate to.

Don’t just take my word for it. Check out Rain Plans, listen to the beautiful “Myer Canyon”, where pedalsteel, George Martin and a mandolin meets up in a veritbale meltingpot of a song.

And the majestic “Rain Plans”. 7 minutes and 18 seconds of pure joy. 7 minutes and 18 seconds of goosebumps. It’s impossible to turn off, and if you ever enjoyed american rock from the 70’s, this song will rekindle your hope in humanity. People still know how to make music!

From Rain Plans:

Myer Canyon
Mansions

From New York Town:
Pray For Rain

From Barn Doors & Concrete Floors:

Fool’s Gold

We taped this small gem in Bergen this spring:

Visit Israel Nash, stalk him on Facebook. Buy the album.

JOHN MURRY – THE GRACELESS AGE

john-murry-the-graceless-age-2013

I cannot believe I never wrote about this album last year. If there’s any kind of explanation for it, it must be that I plainly forgot – as this was released in Europe in 2012, and I had long since worked through it when it got it’s US-release in 2013.

Well then, much have been said and written about this album – and my friend Johnny Wilhelmsen has written the longest and most in depth review in the history of album reviews. There’s no point in trying to top that, so I’ll just write a recommendation, to make sure you check this gem out.

When it comes to writing, there’s one major teaching that many subscribe to: “Write what you know”. While that is a truth with modifications and great stuff is written every day by people not knowing shit about the subject they write about – the best songs in my book comes from personal experience.

And if there’s one thing John Murry has gotten enough of, it’s personal experience.

He’s lived. And he’s died. And he’s risen from the dead, to write about it and tell us where he went wrong. Partly to try excercising his own demons, partly to perhaps help others reconsider and not do what he did.

In the center of Graceless Age, stands the song “Little Colored Balloons” which chronicles John Murrys frustrations, demons and downfall – to the point where he overdoses and dies, before being resurrected by ambulance workers giving him antidote just in the nick of time.

The title hails from his pusher’s choice to wrap the drugs in small children’s balloons. Horrible, and still so painfully honest.

Up above the moon and underneath the gun
Far away from Mississippi all the buttons come undone
A hornets nest inside my brain, rattling like a submachine.
….
Saran Wrap and little coloured balloons.
A black nickel. A needle and a spoon

You say this ain’t what I am?
Well, this is what i do to warn your ghost away

I know you don’t believe in magic.
Nobody does. Not anymore.

What makes a gifted and intelligent person shoot his body full of poison, all the while having a wife and kid depending on him? Perhaps exactly that. The stress of people depending on you, while you see the world around fall apart at it’s seams, from the way egoism and the hunt for more money is peoples single focus. It takes away your last will to live…

I don’t know. I’m not sure even John Murry knows. All I know is that he’s learned from his mistakes, he’s cleaned up his act, he no longer do drugs, and he’s a genuinely great guy. I’ve been lucky enough to meet him and spend some time with him, which was an absolute pleasure. His knowledge and interest in not only music and literature, but also society and politics makes him an interesting person to talk to, and his background gives him credibilty in both discussions and his songwriting.

I could talk about this album and especially “Little Colored Balloons” all day. But I won’t. I’ll leave you to it, to check out for yourself.
Because there are so many good songs here. So many brilliant songs. And his melodies are mesmerizing. Just listen to “The Ballad Of The Pajama Kid”, “Southern Sky” or the horrificly true and heartbreakingly honest “Things We Lost In The Fire”.

This is one of the hardest albums I know to listen to. It’s also the single most rewarding if you give it time. Do it! This is the essence of Essential Listening.

John is currenly working on a new album, and Graceless Age is scheduled for a re-release with bonus tracks sometime this year. Get it at his website, and follow him on Facebook.

A preview for his new album will soon be available, through the EP Califorlornia, which everyone who Kickstarted the new album got as a reward a few months ago (and believe me, it’s magic!)

I recorded John doing a rare acoustic version of “Little Colored Balloons” last fall. It’s a wonder this video came out as it did, as my hands were shaking from the intensity of the deliverance like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Here it is:

Official videos:

Ballad of the Pajama Kid:

Southern Sky:

 

HITLESS WONDER – A LIFE IN MINOR LEAGUE ROCK AND ROLL

Watershed Hitless Wonder

Who among us hasn’t played in a band? Or had friends who played in a band, with us cheering them on. And anyone who’s ever played in a band, writing their own songs – had a wish to make it big. Even if we never would admit it publicly, anyone who’s ever played in a band has had that little fantasy about hitting the bigtime, living the rock’n’roll life and secretly answering questions for make-believe interviews in our heads.

Watershed almost made it. Hell, they actually made it. Then didn’t. Joe Oestreichs fantastic book “Hitless Wonder” is the book of every band out there that practiced and talked about it, or just practiced and never talked about it.

Back in the 80’s and 90’s, all bands hoped and worked for was a record deal. A contract with one of the big labels, that would ensure that your album would be available in record outlets all over the country and maybe even the world! These days, with the internet (yes kids, that thing hasn’t been around for that many years), and the slow downfall of the labels, it’s strange to think about the music business and how it worked just a few years ago.

If you wanted to listen to music, you went out and bought a tape, or an LP, and after a while a CD. Now you just open up Spotify, and get that same music for free. And the artists “have” to be on there, giving their music away for free – or nobody will know they exist.

Back then, if the labels didn’t pick you up and get you airtime on radio and got you publicity – the most you could hope for was getting big in your own hometown.

Now, the music of Watershed might not be to all of this blogs readers preference, I know they’re not my preference at all – but that really doesn’t matter. Because this book is so damn good. It is the story of a band, it is the story of a bands way to the bigtime, and then back to the little leagues with all the rest of us. And at the same time it’s the story of a relationship in the midst of a band going big – and to finish it off it’s a real coming-of-age story. It’s a story of a life for anyone who’s into music in any way.

Watershed

Watersheds front men Colin and Joe formed their first band on the bus home from a Cheap Trick-concert. They decided their friend Herb was going to be their new drummer, and they never looked back.

“Hitless Wonder” starts off with Joe (bassplayer and author of this book) driving his wite Kate to the airport. “I’m not happy about this”, is her first words in this book. Joe had promised to spend the winter holidays with her, and then breaks the promise because Watershed is going back on tour.

And then Joe takes us on a trip that’s nothing short of amazing. Watershed is on the road on a two week tour. And Kate further tells us that “Nobody gives a shot about a Watershed tour, except the guys in Watershed”.

Because Watershed is a bunch of guys in their thirties and forties and one of their steady roadies just hit sixty (!), all packed in a van, driving from bargig to bargig, playing for 4-15 people, collecting anything up to 200$ pr gig (if they’re really really lucky. 20$ is usually a good night).

But the main thing is: They have stayed a band since high school. They have never given up. They are a band, and even if they got close, got signed, had a hit and ALMOST hit the bigtime – they never broke up or said “Well, we tried. Now let’s all move on with our lives”.

They love what they do, and travel the country to play their music to small and large fanbases all over.

“I walk through the curtains and out to the floor. There are exactly five people in the audience. Five people who’ve paid five dollars each to see Watershed play a fifty-minute set”

Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, they were once the biggest band in town. They paid their dues, filling larger and larger venues in town, then dropping out of college to really focus on their music.

They send out promo packets, creates mailinglists (the postcard-kind), hangs posters and creates their own buzz. Local legend Willie Phoenix gets them into the studio to make a demo, and that finally finds it’s way to the desk of someone with the appropriate connections – and suddenly they find themselves at The Power Station in New York, recording their first album – with Jim Steinman as a producer. Yeah, THAT Jim Steinman. They get co-managed by Steinmans firm and David Sonenberg. Yeah. THAT David Sonenberg.

This happens at the same time that Steinman hits it big (again) with Meat Loaf and his “Bat Out Of Hell II”. Sonenberg clients The Spin Doctors have a million selling first album, he’s about the break out The Fugees, and when Watershed get signed – it’s by Epic Records president Richard Griffiths himself.

They record their first album at The Power Station, with Keith Richards recording next door. And Aerosmith. And they meet AC/DC at the reception. And Cyndi Lauper. Watershed gets to spend up to 250.000$ on their debut “Twister”. Everyone agrees they are the next big ting!

The calculations afterwards, which tells them that for every 14.98 cd, they might make as much as 90cents would make anyone who’s never played in a band think “why bother?”. Watershed (and the rest of us) would think “what have got to lose? Go for it!”

From there on stuff sort of goes wrong. And right. And wrong again.

The books timeline changes back and forth between the ongoing tour (which is supposed to end with a big show at a large venue home in Columbus. It’s gonna be their “fill it or quit it” show. Telling them if it’s time to hang it up or not), and their backstory from the start until the present tour starts. The story is filled with great roadstories and meetings with would-be-, should-have-been- and how-the-hell-did-they-do-it-bands along the way.

And in the midst of it, it’s four guys (The band and their tour manager Biggie) growing up while following their dream – and then it’s the story of Joe and Kate – and Joes mistress; Watershed.

I’ve read hundreds of rock-biographies and documentaries – but this is my all time favourite.
Most of all because these guys are you and me. They are just regular people with regular jobs, starting a band for the hell of it, and then they do what most of us failed to do – they follow their dream. ALL the way. There’s no band-members hating each other. There are (almost) no drugs and no rehab-misery. It’s just a bunch of guys doing what they love, driving their van hundreds of miles to play their rock’n’roll, and actually having fun doing it.

“The first thing you learn is that you always gotta wait. Wait to get noticed. Wait to get signed. Wait to get famous”.

Get it at Amazon. (Paperback or Kindle). Visit Watershed Central. Find them on Facebook.

ROBERT MOSES & THE HARMONY CRUSADERS – SELF DEVELOPING COUNTRY

Robert Moses Self Developing Country

Norways population consists of about 5 million people. Our largest city, which is also our capital is Oslo – where aproximately 640.000 people live. In the 1800s over 800.000 Norwegians emigrated to the USA. Minnesota, Dakota, Iowa and other parts of the midwest still have a strong Norwegian ancestry (just look at the Coen brothers’ “Fargo”).

The number of americans immigrating to Norway is about 7500 people. In total. But out of those 7500 we’ve gotten a few really good musicians. Both Robert Smith- Hald, whom I wrote about in this piece, and lately Robert Moses – originally from Chicago, now living in Norway.

Moses visited Norway as a part of a bicycle-camping trip. I’m guessing he didn’t realise Norway is largely mountains, and that most roads go uphill. (at least if feels that way when you ride a bike here). For some reason or another, he ended his London-residency to move to Norway, and settled down in Oslo

Robert Moses played in bands back home in Chicago, but hadn’t been active for years when he startet playing again with a bunch of Norways finest musicans.

And his new LP, Robert Moses & The Harmony Crusaders – Self Developing Country has turned into a pure gem, and is one of the best Norwegian albums released last year.

His lyrics are good, at times even very strong. The melodies grabs hold of you, and the musicians are some of the best musicians you can find around these (or any) parts.

Freddy Holm plays anything that has strings attached, Ketil Kielland Lund takes care of the keys, accordion and the trumpet, Terje Støldal on bass and Glenn-Vidar Solheim on drums makes sure the rythm section is as tight as they come. Guest singer on a few of the tracks is Lucky Lips-vocalist Malin Pettersen.

And off course we have Rober Moses’ voice. Which is the most important instrument on this album. His countryvibrato is nothing short of haunting. And when he combines it with Malin Pettersens voice, magic happens. It’s hypnotical in all it’s intensity. It brings out emotions in anyone who takes time to listen, and I think you should give this a listen…

«There’s A Game We Play», «Take A Look At My Heart, Today», «I’ll Cross The Line» and the majestic «When It’s Done» are a few of my favourites on this album, which takes you on a roller-coaster ride between dark and light, hot and cold and just tears at your soul to be allowed in on the inside. The songwriting is strong, the melodies won’t let you rest until you let them in – and the album is perfect for both dark and light days, depending on your mood.

The album was recently nominated in the  Alt. Country Album category for the Independent Music Awards in the US.

Robert Moses & The Harmony Crusaders. And on Facebook. Buy the album at Robert Moses’ Bandcamp.

I’ll Cross the Line
When It’s Done

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuyJGGww_aM

THE FAR WEST – ANY DAY NOW

The-Far-West-Any-Day-Now

That feeling when you discover a new band for the first time, falls in love with their sound and songs, and actually spend time fearing the fact that they’ll go their separate ways before they fulfil their obvious potential. That feeling is a huge part of the reason why we spend our free time listening to crappy music sent our way, in search for those rare gems that we hope others will appreciate just as much.

The Far West fell into my lap sometime in 2011, and I fell hard for their debut album The Far West, with their mix of traditional country and real alt.country the way Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown did it way back when. The band started out as a obscure craigslist-ad, only consisting of a link to a Waylon Jennings-video. The newly assembled five-piece recorded their first album at a American Legion Hall, while the bar was open, and it sounds so fresh and still so vintage.
Since then, the band has changed line-up, replacing pedal-steel maestro Erik Kristiansen who was vital to the sound on the first album, and instead keyboard-virtuoso James Williamson become a vital part of their new sound.

Where they earlier sounded like Gram Parsons and Waylon Jennings mixed with the countrier side of early Son Volt, they now sound more like Waylon Jennings crossed with the more rocking side of Son Volt, with a touch of Uncle Tupelo, Bottle Rockets and generous amounts of The Backsliders.

And they have somehow managed to sound even BETTER then before.

Williamson really shines on this album, where his contibutions on the electric piano and the organ are some of my favourite parts. But the band sounds really great. So tight and together, like a BAND. But as good as they are, without Lee Briantes vocals they would have been just another band. With his exceptional voice, he lifts this band beyond that of  being “just another band”, and his voice really suits their music.

The songs are written by Briante and bassplayer Robert Black, the two original founders of The Far West. And where other bands with two songwriters tend to get distinctively different types of songs, their songs seem to merge together, without losing their style in the process.

“Any Day Now” opens with Briantes song “On The Road”, where he takes a look at L.A. and Hollywood, seen from an outsiders perspective. After forming the band, Briante moved from Hudson Valley to L.A, where the band now recides.

Everyone’s chasing a ghost
Everyone’s chasing a dream
Everyone’s the next Monroe
Everyone’s the next James Dean
It’s a long, long, long dusty road
And we all are travelling alone

He writes about Hudson Valley in the song “Hudson Valley, and talks about his old homeplace with longing in his voice, while Williamsons saloon-sounding piano sets the mood.

I was standing at the station
watching trains leave all day long

Black also talks about places from his youth, when he in “Wichita” talks about a place and a time that meant a lot to him, while the band as a whole channels The Jayhawks with steady perfection.

Old 97’s and The Backsliders are obvious inspirations to the kick-ass “The Bright Side”, where Black basically just tells the world to fuck off, while Bakkers guitarsolo is as delicious as they come.

There’s a couple of beautiful ballads here too, especially the “could-have-been-plucked-from-Claptons-Slowhand”-ish “These Arms Will be Empty”, and “She’s Gonna Leave Him Too”, which is heartbreaking it’s own brilliance. And let’s not forget the closing song “Across The Bend”, which is just the kind of song that I recommend hearing while sitting down, as it will make your knees weak in it’s beauty.

Looking at this from the outside of the US, this just feels like a dusty trip through the US, meeting people along the way, everyone with a story to tell – sad or happy. And The Far West just draws from a rich history of music, where their sound which is so solidly anchored in genuine and original alt.country, still sounds like what you would guess Americana should sound like – if you just heard the name of the genre.

Fuck, I LOVE this album! I’m calling it Essential Listening.

Get it from The Far West (they also have vinyl). Check out their Facebookpage.

Hudson Valley
Wichita

ROD PICOTT – HANG YOUR HOPES ON A CROOKED NAIL

RodPicott_HangYourHopes

You can’t hide when they all know your name” Rod Picott sings in “Where No One Knows My Name”, the pivotal song on his new album Hang Your Hopes On Crooked Nail.

It’s his ninth album, and after spending a lot of time with his old albums last fall, I think it’s his best to date. I loved his last album Welding Burns, but I just can’t stop playing this album and “Where No One Knows My Name”. Now remember; you’re all getting a couple of huge treats in the coming months: Otis Gibbs has made his best album to date, and his songs are better then ever (if that was even possible) – it probably drops this summer. The Mighty Truckers have made their best rock-album since The Dirty South – where Cooley at times outshine Patterson as a songwriter.. And among these awsome goodiebags – Rod Picott has written a bunch of songs that’ll stand up to any of those albums any day.

He visited Norway last year, with his “Rod Picotts Circus of Misery and Heartbreak”-tour, and charmed the socks of the audiences he met over here. Even though many of the songs are about hardships, and both personal and social downfall – he balances that with a wit and sense of humor between the songs that kept me laughing all throughout the show.

Rod Picott grew up with Slaid Cleaves, and has written a bunch of songs with his old friend. Picott being the strongest songwriter of the two, in my humble opinion. He’s written songs with Fred Eaglesmith – and live he tells the story of when Eaglesmith fell out of his car because of a defective door. And his previous albums features his then-girlfriend Amanda Shires on the fiddle.

This album features – among others; Dave Coleman from The Coal Men on guitars, and RS Field on piano. Guitars and piano is also contributed by Joe Pisapia.

And the star of the album are Rod Picotts songs. His last album Welding Burns had a common thread running through it – songs about hard work. Seen through the working man, welding and sheetrock hanging.

Then it’s this album, and it has a lot of heartbreak on it. It kicks of with “You’re Not Missing Anything”, a song that captures the feelings of intense loss after a break-up with a significant other. Picott mediates the narrators feeling of emptieness, but without bitterness or bad wishes towards the leaving party. It’s just a tale of how hard it is to handle the fact of someone leaving. But Pitcott does it so eloquently it’s a treat to witness, even though the lyrics are sad enough to make you want to go hide in a dark corner to cry in peace…

Two coffee cups, here beside the bed.
I made too much again, sometimes I forget.

You left some things, I’ll just keep them here.
I’ve got a little place, for souvenires.

……

You’re not missing anything, baby now
just  laughing and crying.
You’re not missing anything, baby now
just living and dying.

There are more broken hearts in “Dreams”, later on – complete with a Jeff Lynne’sk guitar that soars above the song and gives it a mood that sets it apart. And then there’s those words again. Those haunting words that make you hang on to them and try to decipher whatever deeper meaning they might have, in hope to avoid similar situations…

You can’t hold on to what you never had,
But you still dream, when you close your eyes.
Trains howl all night long, your broken heart still beats,
and echo repeats. And you still dream…

When I first got this album, back when Picott toured Europe last fall and released it over here, I put it on and didn’t really pay attention – just playing in the background. And suddenly I caught myself thinking “How the HELL did he get away with putting an unreleased Johnny Cash-recording on his album??”. That was “Mobile Home” – where he starts off sounding like Johnny Cash in his American Recordings phase for the first verse.

Complete that with a lyric that hits every nail on the head, crosses all the t’s and dots all the i’s, you’ve got a song that’s impossible to get away from.

The narrator in the song has bought himself a mobile home, and even if it seemingly starts off well, it looks like he can’t quite get comfortable…

Well we pulled  up the carpet and linoleum,
we drank some beer and had some fun

Painted the plastic, made it look like wood
It took all weekend, but it looked pretty good.
No trees, no yard where the dog can bark
Just a home on wheels, at the trailer park.

The other people at the trailer park seems slightly annoying, and his neighbour plays along to Aerosmith on his fake Les Paul all day. The instrumentation on the song is brilliant in it’s simplicity, and gives the words enough room to breathe.

 Ain’t it strange it’s called a mobile home.
You just sit there, you ain’t going anywhere.

The Circus of Misery and Heartbreak continue on “Memory” – which reminds me of english folk-singers from the 70’s, and on “All The Broken Parts” a harmonica sets the mood for the song. Even though the majority of the lyrics are about loss in some way or another, the album never gets depressing or shows any negativty. Picott is a careful observer, and leaves room for anyone to interpret the backstories and endings.

One of the best examples of his craft hides behind the simple title “Milkweed”, where the loss of a close-but-perhaps-not-so-close person is the basis for a song where the song works out almost like a painting. The details are what makes the song. He paints his characters vividly, but only through items in the house and the persons actions. It quite a brilliant little gem, that one…

Who’s gonna cut the milkweed now that he’s gone?
Who’s gonna cut the dead trees down?

Who’s gonna sing that gospel song,
and get the words all wrong?

Get this album! Settle down for the evening, and just listen. You won’t be sorry. This IS Essential Listening.

Get the album at Rod Picotts website, on CD or MP3. Stalk him on Facebook or Twitter.

Where No One Knows My Name

Mobile Home

THE COAL MEN – ESCALATOR

The-Coal-Men-Escalator-Cover

Escalator has turned out to be a catchy collection of real American rock. Singer and main songwriter Dave Coleman adds enough catchy guitarplaying to this album to ensure it sticks in your head after a song finishes. Combined with really good lyrics and melodies that nestles perfectly in your ear, The Coal Men has gathered inspiration from what once worked with the stadium-rock acts, combined it with elements from heartland-rock, some blues and bluesrock, a touch of americana and rootsmusic – lightly sprinkled with catchy poptunes, and as a whole it just plainly works!

I “found” Dave Coleman while doing research for Stephen Simmons album “Hearsay”, where Coleman played gitar so well I had do internet him after a while. What I found was the Todd Snider endorsed band The Coal Men – and their new album being released on Sniders label Aimless Records. Let’s just say they got friends in high places, and Sniders endorsement and their touring together will bring new ears to this band.

Except for that one song on here that sounds too much like that worlds-second-worst band Coldplay, this collection of tunes is one of the more perfect albums to put on in your car and just drive, drive, drive.

Songs like “Last Goodbye”, “Role Model” and the fucking awsome “Broken Heartland” are all songs that will keep you company on those long hauls. But there are lovely ballads here too, especially “Tennessee” and “Old Friends” – and then they surprise us a bit with a different soundscape in “Sanity” – where bluesy Tom Waits meets jazzy New Orleans.

If there were any justice in the world, “The Fall” would qualify for immediate superhit-status, through it’s catchy (yeah – I know I use that word a lot here… but it IS) melody that just sticks to your mind like honey to Winnie The Pooh. But with that said, what could easily have become some commercial crap-pot with clichés dumped upon you in heaps – Dave Coleman elegantly avoids that deathtrap through his words. There are no clichés for commercial radio here. He writes elegantly with insight and experience, which raises this above all that other crap out there…

The best example is “Broken Heartland”, where he explores small-town America and how towns disappear like a puddle of water in a hot desert…

Milwaukee River runs throught this Midwest town
Tracks are torn up rusted, never get run down
Dealership sign just fades with time
‘Been twenty years since a sale’s been made

It’s a broken heart land
She’s a broken heartland
This broken heart land is my home

He continues the story of that Heartland town in the song “Sanity”, by telling us a story about a man in one of those small towns, and how life isn’t quite what it used to be.

Driving the car that a bank really owns
To a job where work for hours on a phone
No sir I’m not a very good salesman you see
But, I try to smile for a little bit of sanity

Another seven days ‘til I get paid
Then some other chump
gonna come and take it all away

I’ll just leave you with one last example of Colemans writing, where he talks about the importance of real friendship…

One call away, they don’t think,
They don’t worry, about a good night sleep
Won’t say a word, They’re just glad, to get you home

Fair weather friends aren’t your real friends
They’ll let you down – They’ve let me down
But old friends they’re your old friends
They’ll put up with you they’ll shut up for you
They’re your old friends

They’re in the pictures, that you own
In all your memories, when you’re alone,
Part of them, Piece by piece, They’re a part of you

You can get it at The Coal Mens Bandcamp, at CDBaby or at Amazon.

Last Goodbye

Broken Heartland

Sanity

DREW KENNEDY – WIDE LISTENER

Back in October of 2012 I wrote about a book and an album that had caught my attention, called “Fresh Water In The Salton Sea”. Since then I’ve read said book several times, and lent it out to a good number of people who have all really enjoyed Drew Kennedys stories from the road.

When he announced a Kickstarter campaign to record his next album, I was an easy target. And even if I’ve cut down on my Kickstarter-contributions after several disappointments, I knew Drew wouldn’t disappoint me. He spent our money well, and crafted one of the best albums I’ve heard this year.

“I’m not big on preaching’
God knows we get enough of that now.
But you can’t control the seasons,
Leaves fall down”
(Age and color)

He workes tirelessly to develop his craft as a songwriter, and on “Wide Listener” there are no weak spots. The album has turned out to be a real goodybag filled with fantastic words and beautiful melodies.

The song that kicks it all off, “Age and Color” is a lot more hard-kicking than I’ve heard from Kennedy before, and it’s one of the best songs of the year. It’s fresh, it’s catchy, and the lyrics are as strong as you could ever wish for.

There’s a row of talented musicians on this album, and they’ve played around with everything from a banjo and a pedal steel, to a cello, violin and an Hammond B3 and even a Rhodes. Complete that with crisp harmonies and a very dedicated production, that give the words all the room they need to work out – this looks like an album I’ll keep spinning.

Next to his songwriting, Drew Kennedys strongest point is his voice. It’s one of the most comfortable voices in the business, and the power and devotion in which he delivers the vocals is the albums absolute strongest point. You get a mix of  anything from swinging americana to flowing folkrock and a tough countrygroove – and the result is an album that works best as a good old-fashioned ALBUM.

“Some things.
Built to last.
Your memory.
Good carpentry.”
(Good carpentry)

Picking favourites is hard, the whole is so strong and filled with quality. The storytelling is intriguing, the slow songs feels like floating along on a quiet river, and the rockers are riveting and makes is hard to sit still.

Just check it out, it’s too mellow for those who wants to feel like they get their balls kick up to their teeth when listening to music – but if you like words and songwriting – this is the place to be!

Drew Kennedy – Age and Color
Drew Kennedy – Jesus Can See You

Drew Kennedys Official Site, Drew Kennedy on Facebook.
Buy the album.

MANDO SAENZ – STUDEBAKER

Break Away Speed, co-written with Kim Richey and presented as one hell of a duet kicks of this album. And from there on Mando Saenz just keeps on delivering and kicking ass.

He writes honest songs about the stuff he’s seen, and as his press-kit says “Mando Saenz has made a career out of watching people, haunting places and asking questions.”

Richeys backup-vocals lifts this album, her voice fits Saenz like a warm, comforting glove, and makes sure this sits comfortably in your ear.

What really hooks me in here, is that raw and dirty twangy guitarsound that’s being used on several tracks. The songs rock, and they roll. And there’s enough country here to place it well into that category, all the while staying miles away from the evil parts of the Nashville generic sound machine.

With great new albums from Caitlin Rose, Stephen Simmons, Rod Picott, Otis Gibbs and the like – it seems that the songwriters are making sure Nashville still can be a town to be reckoned with, even for those of us who can’t watch the CMAs without gagging.

Mark Nevers production is dirty, direct and as tight as it comes. He’s worked with Lambchop, Bobby Bare Jr. and Norways own St.Thomas. And while he takes good care of the up-tempo songs with the aforementioned twangy guitars, the ballads on the album gets a touch of piano and even some horns to make them flow. Again, and I can’t mention this enough, Kim Richeys backup vocals really makes these songs shine. It’s as close to perfection as you’d ever find.

As I mentioned earler, Saenz songwriting is strong. He seems to be good at noticing the details around him, and uses that in his songs to create strong characters and stories you want to follow until the end.

I would suggest you get this album, and spend some time with Mando Saenz. Me thinks you won’t regret it!

Mando Saenz – Break Away Speed
Mando Saenz – The Road I’m On

Get it (digital, cd or glorious vinyl) at Saenz Bandcamp.